A new breed of porn CEO — female

Lux Alptraum, the new head of Fleshbot, embodies how the Internet is changing the face of the adult industry

Topics: Sex, Internet Culture,

A new breed of porn CEO -- female (Credit: Adam Courtney)

Lux Alptraum is not your stereotypical adult-industry executive: She’s young, female, queer, Ivy-educated and based in New York. As the newly minted CEO of the porn blog Fleshbot, which until recently was part of the Gawker Media empire, Alptraum is proof of how the Internet is changing the face of the adult business.

She took “a long and winding road” to this point. In college at Columbia, she discovered the online amateur porn scene, which was exploding at the time. “There were a lot of different people doing things that were really fascinating and intriguing and not standard porn,” she says. Alptraum started modeling and doing cam shows for a site that specialized in “nerdy girls,” but after a year she quit and started her own site, That Strange Girl.

A few years later, after a stint teaching sex ed at an after-school program, she started Boinkology, a site about sex and pop culture. That got her noticed by the folks at Fleshbot, which has always specialized in a mix of sexy content from both porn and mainstream entertainment (for example, a red-carpet shot of a celebrity with a see-through dress or a sex scene on “Weeds”). She quickly rose from a contributor to associate editor to editor in chief.

The recent split with Gawker was a result of the fact that “Fleshbot required all this special attention,” she says, because everyone from advertisers to banks are scared of being associated with an adult site. “They couldn’t devote the energy to optimizing it, and it wasn’t bringing in enough to justify the problems it was creating.” In an interview last year, Gawker Media founder Nick Denton, who recently reported a record of 35.6 million unique visitors across all his Web properties, said Fleshbot accounted for only 5 percent of the company’s traffic.

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So Denton put it up for sale. Alptraum can’t go into details because of “some nondisclosure stuff I signed,” but says, “Basically, they had a really short timeline on a sale, and there were interested people who just couldn’t make an offer in time. So it ended up going to me, basically.”

Now she’s the 29-year-old CEO of an adult site, and one of a growing number of women taking the helm of everything from porn production houses to sex toy companies. That said, the industry is still dominated by old white guys. But that’s slowly changing. Quentin Boyer, who has been in the industry since 1997, says “the shift in the ‘porn executive demographic’” began “in the late ’90s, when Internet-based companies began to assert themselves in the adult entertainment market.” Says Boyer, the public relations director for Pink Visual, a porn production company that advertises on Fleshbot and also happens to have a female CEO: “In my view, Lux is part of the wave of new talent that has arrived in the adult entertainment industry as a direct result of the industry’s ‘webification,’ if you will.”

Alptraum agrees. “I’m someone who’s kind of a Web native and who comes from a sex positive background of not necessarily embracing the dominant narrative of what’s sexy,” she says. “I’m kind of like the embodiment of what the Internet has done to porn.” By freeing up the means of production and giving direct access to niche audiences, the Web has empowered all sorts of people who don’t fit the typical porn mold to enter the business, and from all angles.

Women have slowly made progress outside the alt and Internet-based sectors of the industry too. “There are several video companies that have females in high-ranking positions,” says Mark Kernes, a senior editor at Adult Video News. For example, heavyweights Wicked Pictures, Vivid Entertainment and Digital Playground. Miller says, “Certainly the assumption from outside the business is that it’s male dominated, and that’s the majority still, but women have made a big impact in recent years.”

Much like Alptraum, Fleshbot is unusual within the industry. “They have tapped into a unique niche within the adult media and publishing world,” says Dan Miller, executive managing editor of XBIZ, an industry news source. “They’ve been able to dip their toes a little bit into both worlds.”

The site’s also unusual in terms of its “feminist and respectful ethos,” argues Alptraum. “It’s not vulgar, it’s not treating these performers in a degrading way,” she says. “We never shame anybody’s body because we believe that anybody who’s willing to put themselves forth as a sexual object is worth celebrating.”

But the biggest thing setting Fleshbot apart from other porn blogs is that it publishes straight and gay content side by side. “From a marketing perspective, that’s a real departure from the industrywide tendency to categorize and segregate content starting with sexual orientation as the first point of separation,” says Boyer. Instead, Alptraum sees the site as a collection of “anything that we feel could be hot.”

It’s a decidedly Internet-era mindset of plurality and pansexuality. “The reason why I’m able to run Fleshbot, and the reason why Fleshbot is in ascendance, is the same reason why alt porn became popular: the Internet is dramatically transforming the adult industry,” she says. “It’s not so much of a top-down dictation thing anymore.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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